An unassuming older man finds an unexpected new direction for his life in this debut novel.
Seventy-three-year-old Norbert Zelenka has been a quiet person his whole life and assumes he’ll live out his days thusly in a quiet tourist town in upstate New York. His first surprise, as the novel opens, is that he’s caught the attention of Carlotta’s Club, a tightknit group of three older women he sees often at The Gibbon Corner Art League and Gallery. More surprising is their suggestion that he become the town fortuneteller. It is such a ridiculous and invasive idea that Norbert would never consider it, not unless he was broke and needed to pay veterinary bills for his miniature Chihuahua and sole companion, which happens to be the situation. The club teaches him everything they know from earlier dabbles in the psychic arts, and Carlotta, their forceful leader, installs him at her niece’s floundering cafe. It turns out that Norbert has a knack for the art of card reading or, more accurately, the art of attentive listening and incisive feedback. A lot of the fun of the novel is eavesdropping on his many sessions (which hint that he has real psychic abilities, but keep the jury out on the issue). His success is welcome to all except Carlotta, who had planned to use him more as puppet than protégé. The two butt heads, and Norbert repetitively fears that he has too much responsibility for the lives of others. But this is padding before the book gets to its real question: will Norbert be able to help Carlotta’s granddaughter, Summer, who is in a real psychological crisis?
Holding more surprise for its characters than its readers, this novel is nonetheless charming, warm, and wittily told.